By Arab News
Jordan’s king bowed to popular demands for elected Cabinets on Sunday but gave no timetable, saying that sudden change could lead to “chaos and unrest” in this country that has averted the turmoil seen in other Arab nations.
It was the first time that King Abdallah has made such a concession to Jordanians, who have taken to the streets during six months of pro-democracy protests to demand a greater political say in this key US Arab ally.
Many Jordanians want the king to loosen his absolute grip on power, which includes appointing prime ministers and Cabinets.
In the televised speech Sunday marking his 12th year as Jordan’s ruler, Abdallah said that future Cabinets will be formed according to an elected parliamentary majority. He did not say when the change would take place, but suggested that it would come after relevant laws are in place.
“We hope these recommendations ensure a modern electoral law that leads to a Parliament that is representative of all Jordanians,” he said.
The king also promised further changes without elaborating, saying that a royal commission is now exploring “possible amendments” to the constitution appropriate for Jordan’s “present and future.” When Abdallah ascended to the throne in 1999, he floated the idea of a constitutional monarchy similar to the British system of power, but little has been said since. As pro-democracy revolutions have swept through the region, Jordan’s king has faced increasing pressure to speed up reforms or risk unrest in his tiny kingdom.
A similar movement in Morocco is also calling for reducing the powers of that country’s monarchy and strengthening the prime minister’s position.
Jordanians have been demanding a new Parliament that would replace the existing one that is widely seen as docile. A small group of activists also says it wants the king to also relinquish all his power and become only a figure head of state.
But major political parties such as the powerful Muslim Brotherhood have rejected that call, describing the king a “stabilizing influence.” Brotherhood spokesman Jamil Abu Bakr warned reforms were needed to “avoid the tragedies taking place in the region.”
In the past, Abdallah has said that he wants to see Jordan’s splintered 33 political parties merge into three blocs from which Cabinets could be formed.
Parliaments are currently elected under laws that ensure a pliant pro-government assembly composed of tribal loyalists.
The Hashemite monarchy is viewed as an arbiter among feuding tribes and a unifying force that holds together the country’s two main competing groups, East Bank native Jordanians and their countrymen of Palestinian origin.
Abdallah said the changes would be implemented based on the recommendations of a national dialogue committee, that has recently proposed laws governing elections and political parties. The committee is also reviewing economic legislation to tackle official corruption, nepotism and bureaucracy.
The Jordanian government has lifted restrictions on public assembly, allowing protesters to demonstrate freely. But it has said it needs time to enact laws on political freedoms, including those addressing election and political parties.
At the outset of protests, Abdallah sacked his prime minister in February, responding to protesters demands that he was insensitive to their economic hardships. Protests in Jordan have been relatively smaller and generally peaceful, although there was one person killed in unrest.
Political analyst Labib Kamhawi said the king’s remarks were a “step forward, but we have to wait and see the final outcome.” “The speech was positive on critical issues like electing a prime minister in the future,” added Kamhawi, who is usually an outspoken critic of the king’s policies. “But we want to see more being done for wider civil liberties and less security interference in the affairs of the state.”